Scrubs. Flubs. Cubes. Whether spoken with derisive or affectionate inflection, the names infer the same thing: the Cubs franchise is one built on the concept of being lovable losers. Sure, they've had their share of success, winning occasional division championships here and there. Heck, they even have one playoff series victory in the last seven decades.
If we look simply at the black-and-white of the numbers, the Cubs aren't losers at all. They were the 2nd-ever MLB team to 10,000 wins and boast an all-time winning % of .511. At first blush, that doesn't seem like much to crow about, but consider that among the 6 other teams with 10K wins, only 3 (NY/San Francisco Giants: 10,703/.538; Brooklyn/LA Dodgers: 10,407/.525; St. Louis Cardinals: 10,391/.519) have won at a better clip than the Cubs.
Just in case you're wondering, the Reds (10,189/.508), Pirates (10,064/.503), and Braves (10,237/.502) round out the all-time winningest clubs. Only 5 teams in baseball have more captured more pennants than the Cubs' 16: the Yankees (40), Cards (23), Dodgers (22), Giants (22), and Braves (17). Of course, the fact that the last of those 16 for Chicago occurred in 1945 doesn't help the argument.
And while I'm on the subject of totals, lets look at the number of players that have worn a Cubs jersey: 1,966, behind only the Redbirds (2,205). That's almost 2,000 Mike Harkeys, Jeff Picos, and Les Lancasters; incidentally, those first two are the respective pitching coaches for the Cubs' last two opponents, the Reds and D-backs. And the third man was the first answer from both my brother and a Twitter follower when I asked who would follow two of my former favorite Cubs pitchers.
@DEvanAltman Les Lancaster? I actually looked ol' Les up while tweeting this and he is the pitching coach for the Lakewood BlueClaws
— MH Mock (@skinny_whiteguy) April 22, 2014
But while the Cardinals are lauded for their development and savvy with said players, the Cubs are lamented for their devaluation and sadly-spoken tales of what might have been. Other keystone MLB organizations are built on a culture of success, both past and present.
But the Cubs, oh the Cubs; they have somehow managed to subsist on a diet of hope, nostalgia and tolerated mediocrity for longer than most teams have been in existence. And this was the plan from at least the days of PK Wrigley, the man who wanted to remove his own surname from his team's home in favor of Cubs Park. Why? Well, because the ballpark was, and should be, the reason people came out to see the Cubs. Or so Wrigley reasoned.
And his plan worked, for the most part. There have been down years and attendance is certainly proving that many need to see a competitive team before paying the 3rd-highest ticket prices in baseball. But there's still an strong undercurrent among Cubs fans that Wrigley is at least as integral to their loyalty as the laundry.
For those fans, it's not the result of the game, or even the seemingly-interminable season that matter. If they can visit Wrigley and feel the sun on their face, see the manual scoreboard towering over them in center, and catch a baseball game, all is right with the world.
And I get that, to an extent. There's little better than a beautiful summer afternoon at the ballpark, right?
But I was forced to dig a little deeper the other day during an appearance in studio with Query & Schultz on 1260AM WNDE. Jake Query, whose mother is a Cubs die-hard, laid out his theory that the losing is so fundamental to being a Cubs fan that winning it all would actually erode, if not completely eliminate, the mystique.
I countered by citing declining attendance and a general sense of frustration, and, at times, outright anger, present among fans in many circles. I've written before about when Cubs baseball stopped being fun and I don't believe I'm alone in those thoughts. In short, the 2003 season showed fans that the Cubs could win, and getting that close and losing it changed the game for them.
But Jake got me thinking and I still have to wonder: would things change again if the Cubs win it all? Would it be like the scene in Forrest Gump, the one in which he runs from coast to coast and back, inspiring legions of faithful devotees to follow along with little care as to the destination? The end of his journey is an anti-climactic event, as Gump simply stops running and says, "I'm pretty tired...I think I'll go home now."
While there's no doubt a Cubs' World Series title would be greeted with slightly more fanfare than the retirement of a bearded runner in a movie, something in the back of my mind wonders whether some will still feel the same way about the Cubs. It's done, the journey's over; I've poured my life and loyalty into this team and now I can die happy.
Does that metaphysical pull to the ballpark still exist if it's festooned with banners celebrating a contemporary winner and not just those mythical teams from the past? Will the Cubs become the Boston Red Sox? I wear my heart on my sleeve, literally, and I can confidently say that I'd be swollen with the gluttony of pride, but would gladly go back for seconds and thirds as the team continued to compete.
But what do you think, not just for yourself, but for your fellow Cubs fans: if there's nothing to hope for, nothing to complain about, is there still anything at all? Is the mystique still there when the sign reads "AC000000?" I'd love to read your thoughts below, so fill up the comment box or tweet me.
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